By Arabella Greatorex
Quite simply, an absolute nightmare for parents and babies alike, colic is likely to be the first major test of your parenting skills. It is dreadful for all concerned but these tips should help you cope with this difficult time.
You must at all times remember that your baby is not crying to annoy you or to punish you for something you have not done. It is not your fault that she is suffering in this way, nor is it hers. All you can do is to help relieve her pain.
Is it colic?
Colic is defined as 3 or more hours of continued crying in a day. It is not an actual illness or physical ailment and doctors are still not sure what the cause is. All that is known is that a number of babies will suffer from it, starting around 6 weeks and crying inconsolably for hours each day until around 3 months or later.
If your baby cries for long periods of time and you are not able to comfort her, it may be colic but you should first rule out the normal reasons for crying:
Is your baby hungry or thirsty? Is her nappy wet, or is she too hot or cold? Is she bored or in need of a cuddle?
If you can rule out all the above, you should ensure that she is not ill by checking the following:
* Lots of physical contact is often the only way to comfort a baby suffering from colic. A baby that is actually ill is unlikely to want to be handled.
* Nearly every baby will bring back small quantities of milk but any actual vomiting should be checked out with your health visitor or other health professional.
* A baby suffering from colic will continue to feed and has a good sucking reflex. An ill baby is likely to have a reduced appetite and may not suck as well.
* Colic is very unlikely to alter your baby's nappies so any diarrhoea should be investigated further.
A baby with colic will quite literally howl with pain and will bring their knees up into their chest to try and relieve it. Many parents that with lots of patience and hard work, they are able to reduce the level of discomfort even if they are not able to end it completely.
It is still not known why some babies suffer from colic and it is likely that there are a number of probable causes.
Many colicky babies suffer from excessive wind and doctors will sometimes prescribe anti-wind drops.
Other babies may simply find the transition to the world a little hard to cope with and display colic symptoms as a result.
A small number of babies suffer from a milk allergy (either to breast or formula milk) which may be the cause of the colic symptoms and may respond to a soya-based milk. This needs to be monitored carefully so you must discuss the symptoms with your GP or other health professional before altering your baby's feeding.
Watch what you are eating as many foods are known to affect babies - spicy food, grapes, onions, dairy products, alcohol, tea, chocolate, coffee, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, peppers (especially raw green peppers), strawberries, oranges and grapes. I found that grapes, onions and cauliflower were particularly bad.
You should try eliminating any foods that you know don't agree with you for a few days and see if this helps.
Breast-fed babies tend to take in less air than bottle-fed but do remember to burp your baby about 5/10 minutes into the feed and then again at the end. Even breast-fed/fed on demand babies can gulp milk in the first few minutes so an early winding can help to remove this air before too much milk gets on top of it.
Remember to relax when you are feeding - if you are tense you may pass this on to your baby and start the process off. Also, this may be one of the few times in which you will be able to rest yourself. Try out a number of positions to see which is most comfortable for the two of you. Ask for help if you need it - try the NCT Breast- feeding helpline or your health visitor.
A soya formula can help some babies with colic but do check with your GP or heath visitor as they have been concerns about the levels of sugar in some formulas.
If you think that your baby is swallowing a lot of air when feeding, try a different teat and always make sure that the bulb is full of milk to help reduce this. Keep feeds small and often - this way your baby will never get panicky for a feed and gulp in air and also will never suffer from bloating caused by too full a stomach.
There are a number of other, more long term preventative measures that you can take. Many parents swear by massage: it can help to prevent a bout of colic and also relieve the symptoms when one does occur. Cranial-osteopathy is another treatment that many parents opt for - do ask around for a recommended practitioner or see our advice and links page.
When an attack occurs
There is no single thing that will give relief to all babies with colic but with (lots) of patience and trial and error, you will find things that will help ease the discomfort. What your baby really needs is comforting and lots and lots of it. This will not spoil the baby - you are simply responding to her needs and helping her through a distressing time.
Simple things often work best:
* put her over your shoulder or in another favourite position and walk up and down the room
* cradle her face down over your arm so that all her weight is on her stomach
* lay her face down across your knees and pat her back
* if you have a rocking chair, try sitting in it and rocking backwards and forwards
* if you have a baby carrier, this may help if your arms begin to get tired.
* talk soothingly to your baby - she is scared and in pain and this can help to calm her down
* try any other calming tricks that she likes such as dim lights or soothing music
* try massaging her stomach gently in a clockwise direction (this can also work as a preventative measure) - see our article on baby massage here
* try gently pushing her knees into her stomach to help relieve the pain
* try some of the branded gripe and wind relief preparations that are available after checking with your pharmacist which is best for your baby
It is very hard work and extremely frustrating for you but you should be able to dramatically reduce your baby's suffering if you keep at it.
If you can, share this time with another adult - perhaps you could take it in turns or maybe keep each other company as you cope with the baby's cries.
If you really are reaching the end of your patience, put your baby somewhere safe (such as the cot) and leave the room for 10 minutes. She may scream even louder but no real harm will come to her and the short break will do you wonders.
The next day
Your baby is likely to wake up bright and early and not be any the worse for the night before. You on the other hand, are likely to be exhausted and very aware that it will all start again in a few hours.
Forget about the housework - you and your baby need as much enjoyable time together and you need as much rest as you can get. Even if you can't get someone to help you with the nights, perhaps a neighbour or friend would play with the baby while you catch up on some sleep.
Nor is actually getting dressed in the mornings that important - if it helps you to rest, then stay in your dressing gown until you are ready to go out.
Make your life as simple as possible: if friends call round to see you and the baby, ask them to make the coffee while you sit down for 5 minutes. Perhaps they could even hang the washing out for you - it is amazing the difference even this will make to the quality of your life.
Order in takeaway or make simple meals such as jacket potatoes and tuna or cheese - easy to cook and easy to clean up.
This is a very difficult time so try to hold onto the thought that it will pass in a couple of weeks. Also, remember, this is not your fault, nor is it your baby's fault.
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